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A Major Victory Unheralded

A Major Victory Unheralded
A Major Victory Unheralded

Let's take a break from the angst of often-failed fisheries management.

Today, we can take note of and celebrate an important reform that is wrapping up with very little notice.

We refer to the impending phase-out of food-shrimp bottom trawling in Tampa Bay, the state's largest open-water estuary.

Many if not most folks don't recall the shrimp trawling controversies of a quarter-century ago.

Our collective loss of memory is to be expected, I guess, except that recently the phaseout was proposed

to be undone, partly because most officials and staffs nowadays weren't around when the issue was hot.

Fortunately, the Coastal Conservation Association and some other leading fisheries conservation forces were immersed in the battles then, and now.



In brief, here's what happened: All through the ‘80s, conservationists demonstrated how the bottom-dragging shrimp gear ripped up seagrasses and killed countless tons of fish and other life.

Food shrimpers, however, argued that the bottom-dragging gear was actually beneficial in that it “tilled” the ground and fostered plant growth. The claim, while cleverly presented, was mainly a source of amusement among researchers.

But on went the bottom scraping night after night, as dozens of trawlers damaged the resource. The CCA's Ted Forsgren and Tampa Bay area leaders such as then-commissioner Jan Platt kept up the pressure.

And finally, in 1991-92, the Marine Fisheries Commission (forerunner to today's commission) and Florida Legislature adopted a program to phase out the bay food-shrimpers when participants would leave the fishery. Importantly, it was specified that the remaining licenses could not be transferred or sold.

Gradually since then, the number of Tampa Bay food shrimpers has fallen from 30 to a small handful. The end seemed in sight.

Last year, however, a remaining trawler operator requested that the no-transfer provision be dropped. Whoa, exclaimed fisheries activists, saying that would perpetuate food shrimping indefinitely and surely bring similar requests from those previously phased out of Tampa Bay.

The commercials' extension request got some preliminary support (who remembers those old days?) but in the end, the current wildlife commission chose not to pursue it, to the commission's credit.

So Tampa Bay's ecosystem continues to flourish, partly because of the shrimper phaseout.

We should toast the outstanding work by a relative few good citizens.

Karl Wickstrom




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